A question came up recently in a conversation about structured authoring and a migration into a component content management system: “If we’re not going to reuse this content, and it is always entirely unique, do we still need to chunk it into components?”
The short answer is … it depends.
Here are three guidelines I use when thinking about whether to chunk long-form content into smaller, standalone components.
- Will any of the content be reused?
- Is the content always entirely unique?
- What does your publishing system require?
1. Will any of the content be reused?
Strategic content reuse depends on having the content chunked at the right level of granularity. For some content, that means you’ll have a component as brief as a single sentence. For other content, the component might be an entire section, such as an appendix of disclaimers.
For most content, it’s somewhere in between. That “somewhere in between” is a reliable guide to what content to componentize and how small or large each component should be.
Content reuse is not the only reason to break long-form documents into components. However, content reuse is one of the biggest factors in how you componentize and manage your content. It’s also one of the biggest factors in calculating the ROI of your move from unstructured content to component-based content management.
2. Is the content always entirely unique?
This question is “reuse in reverse.”
If a large block of content is always entirely unique, crafted for a single release and then discarded, never to be seen again, then it does not need to be chunked into components.
Related questions at this point include, are you SURE the content is entirely unique? It truly does not have any descriptions, data tables, warning statements, illustrations, notes, procedures, or other content in common with other publications? If the content is entirely unique now, should it remain so, in the future?
When we help customers develop their content strategy and transform their content, we perform a thorough reuse analysis, using a combination of harmonization software and human expertise. The results inform our decisions around what content to componentize to which level of granularity.
Sometimes, we find that the differences that make the content unique are different only through tradition and process, and not through necessity. In other words, there may be opportunities to standardize, componentize, and reuse content that are not obvious at first glance.
The important part is to do the analysis to answer the question. Don’t rely on the team’s collective memory or a cursory glance at the most recent releases.
3. What does your publishing system require?
If the long block of unique content includes headings or any type of hierarchy, you may still need to componentize it in order to compile and publish it from your structured content management system.
Component-based structured authoring streamlines content creation by allowing authors to focus on writing rather than formatting. The writers can write the long-form content as a series of short, focused building blocks with very little formatting. The system takes care of creating tables of contents, tables of figures, applying styles to different heading levels, and so forth.
The resulting document looks exactly like a long-form document, complete with all of its design and navigation elements such as headers, footers, footnotes, endnotes, glossaries, and cover page. The reader doesn’t know (or care) whether it was componentized or not. All the reader knows is that it was easier for them to find and use the information they needed.
If the document is created outside of the structured content management system, then these considerations do not apply.
Your content strategy can include documents
Most of the time, the answers to these three questions lead us to chunk the content into smaller, standalone components that we can use and reuse in a modular fashion.
However, there are situations in which the answers are No, No, and Nothing. When that is the case, include the long-form documents in your content strategy. Update your structured authoring guidelines so everyone knows what content to keep long-form and why. The important thing is to do the analysis and make a plan.